Best Ducks ever? Future tests may hold key

November, 5, 2012
11/05/12
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There was so much anticipation for Nov. 3, which was circled in red as soon as the 2012 schedules came out: Oregon at USC. "That," everyone said, "is going to be big."

It's two days after. While Ducks coach Chip Kelly won't pause and reflect, we can. And here's where we are: It feels like Oregon has its best team ... ever.

While the defense didn't walk away from a 62-51 win over USC feeling great about itself, the Ducks' offense reached a new level of ludicrous speed that was simply extraordinary against the Trojans' quality defense. Don't gloss over this: A USC defense had never given up so many points. Never. Nor had it ever given up 730 yards. Never! Heck, that was 107 yards more than a legendary Notre Dame squad piled up in 1946 while setting the mark that lasted 66 years.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Charles Baus/Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesQuarterback Marcus Mariota has helped Oregon average over 54 points per game in 2012.
This Oregon offense, with a redshirt freshman quarterback, has significantly better numbers than the 2010 squad that played for the national title.

The Ducks rushed for 286.2 yards per game in 2010. They are rushing for 341.2 this season. They averaged 530.65 yards in 2010. They average 561.2 yards this season. They averaged 47 points per game in 2010. They average 54.33 this season. Their passing efficiency number in 2010 was 151.72. It's 159.94 this season.

This squad is younger on the offensive line than the 2010 crew, but it's far more physically gifted. And QB Marcus Mariota is a better passer and runner than Darron Thomas, notably more consistent and accurate. Thomas completed 61.5 percent of his passes in 2010. Mariota is completing 70.5 percent of his throws.

In fact, Mariota now ranks No. 1 in the Pac-12 and No. 7 in the nation in passing efficiency. The Pac-12 blog is officially retiring the word "test" from further stories on Mariota.

Receiver is the one area where the 2010 Ducks look superior, but one of the overlooked revelations from the USC game is how well the receivers played. Josh Huff turned in perhaps his best game, catching six passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns. Seven different players caught passes.

Of course, it's slightly bogus to compare the 2010 and 2012 numbers at this point. There's a lot of football left. In fact, there might be the toughest football ahead, particularly the next three -- or four -- opposing defenses.

Oregon visits California on Saturday. You might recall that the only team to shut the Ducks' offense down in 2010 was the Golden Bears at home. Further, Stanford and Oregon State are ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in both scoring and rushing defense in the Pac-12. In fact, Stanford is No. 1 and Oregon State No. 5 in the nation in run defense, and both are ranked in the nation's top 20 in scoring defense.

The odds are against the Ducks rolling up 730 yards against either. But, of course, we would have typed the same about the Trojans.

And then there could be a Pac-12 title game. At this moment, the favorite to win the South Division figures to be the winner of the USC-UCLA game on Nov. 17, but predicting how the South might go feels like a week-to-week thing.

It's easy to begin salivating over the idea of this Chip Kelly Oregon offense facing a Nick Saban Alabama defense for the national title. I will admit that among a gaggle of sportswriters in L.A. for the game, it came up more than once.

Still, Nov. 3 didn't set up like most expected. The Trojans failed to live up to their preseason projections. Nov. 3 was a measuring stick, a significant one, but not one that provides a decisive verdict.

What the Pac-12 became this year was deep, not top-heavy, as expected. Seven different teams have been ranked this season, and five are ranked in the latest BCS standings. No one saw the Beavers' rise coming, nor were Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA expected to be such tough outs.

So these Ducks can be evaluated only on the totality of the season, which is as it should be. Their ultimate achievement won't be owning Nov. 3. It will be running the table in a deep Pac-12.

Best Oregon team ever? That's my impression. But let's wait and answer that on Nov. 30.

Or on Jan. 7.

Ted Miller | email

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